T.M.I.

This post starts, as many of my recent posts have, in the rough and tumble neighborhood called Facebook.   I wrote a status update about how my new cholesterol medication was making me sleepy and grouchy.  I promptly deleted it.  Why was I sharing this bit of personal information with everyone from former classmates to producers in Hollywood?  I wrote another status update apologizing for taking the first status update down, which only drew more attention to the fact that my cholesterol is high.   One nice women recommended some herbal remedy.   Another friend inquired if my symptoms of “sleepy and grouchy” were really code words for “erectile dysfunction,” which I think would be an ideal way to start my new dating life.   Maybe I should put that on my bio.

Later that day, I stumbled onto a New York Times article, titled “Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know.” (February 10, 2012).   The thesis of the article:  we are all hearing TOO MUCH INFORMATION from others in our lives via social media.

UNLESS you are my best friend or my husband, I don’t need to know the macabre symptoms of your gastrointestinal virus. I don’t need to know about how much candy anyone, other than me, has eaten. As for my ex-boyfriend, I don’t need to hear about his wife’s ability to Zumba.

There are things I’d rather just not know about you.

The content of the article is nothing new.   Bloggers have made jokes about privacy and TMI for years.  But apparently, social media has finally arrived in the formerly austere New York Times newsroom.  And while a staff member of the New York Times might feel comfortable reporting from the war zone, he apparently doesn’t have a clue what to do when he is confronted on Facebook by baby photos from a cousin in Oklahoma.

What I found particularly strange about this article was the choice of subjects interviewed on this topic.

There is Sloane Crosley, author of “How Did You Get This Number.”

“The entire world has become this Dickensian series in which you are not visited by three ghosts but by eight million ghosts. I feel as if I see things about people that I don’t necessarily want to see, and then it’s lodged like a piece of corn in my subconscious.”

There is Colby Hall, founding editor of Mediaite.com.  Laurie David, Hollywood producer. Julie Klam, author.   Laura Zigman, author.   Dodai Stewart, editor of Jezebel.com.

Even Maura Kelly, a co-author of the winner of the longest book title of 2012 “Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-So-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals.”

You notice something here? In an era, when the Internet is the Time “Person of the Year,” when Twitter and Facebook are changing the face of the Middle East, the NY Times plays it safe with interviewing professional writers.

Weren’t we better off knowing a little bit less, a little less often, about everyone else?…

“The whole system is giving very ambitious people much less chance to reinvent themselves,” said Jaron Lanier, author of “You Are Not a Gadget,” and the change is less dramatic. Who would Bob Dylan end up as, he wondered, if Zimmerman were there with him the whole time?

And there lies the real point of the article.   This is not really about TMI in social media.   It is about how social media is making it harder for the “ambitious” to brand themselves! How could Bob Dylan be Bob Dylan if the Zimmerman family was forever posting Passover photos on his timeline?   Could Madonna still be Madonna if she kept in touch with friends from summer camp?

Is part of achievement the dropping the dead weight from the past?

This is an interesting subject, although I find the tone of the article somewhat condescending.   Shouldn’t professional writers in New York be encouraging their aunts in Ohio to express themselves online, even if it goes into TMI territory at times.   What professional writer hasn’t done that himself in his own writing?   Professional writers embarrass their families by writing memoirs.   It’s payback time.   The families are now going to embarrass them by posting photos of you on Facebook!

People finding their voice, even in small ways, is good for everyone.

If I were to choose the one moment in blogging that I am most proud of, it would be “The Great Interview Experiment” from 2008.   The idea truly expressed my love for blogging;  it was so idealistic and impractical, that I still laugh at the mild chaos that it produced. The concept spit in the face of the traditional name-dropping in this New York Times article (at least in my own mind).

I wanted to show that anyone with a blog was interesting enough to be interviewed.  So, the comment section became a random list of interviewers and interviewees.  Commenter #2 interviewed Commenter #1 and posted the result on her blog.  Commenters #3 interviewed Commenter #2, and so on.

Sure, it was corny, but in my mind, bloggers would finally have to prove the stuff they said about “community” online wasn’t bullshit.   Dooce could be interviewed by a pagan witch blogger, who could be interviewed by a church-going pastor.   Everyone’s “brand” would be fucked up for one post, and the world would be a better place.

But the world keeps on turning, and the New York Times is the same, even when talking about social media.  Couldn’t they have interviewed at least one “regular person?”  I understood the importance of the internet in 2008 better than the New York Times today.

I applaud the fact that we all have the freedom to express TMI to the public.  More power to it!

Tomorrow I am going to re-post my status update about my cholesterol medicine.   There’s no reason to be embarrassed by it.

Sloane Crosley can unfriend me if she wants..

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15 Responses to T.M.I.

  1. There is really no such thing as too much information. (Which is how I’ve earned my gangsta name: Notorious TMI).
    Amanda P. Westmont posted Welcome to The Thunderdome (or how the Hitachi Magic Wand saved my sex life)

  2. Alma Meeker says:

    The year my Mama got sick, and later died, I started writing a blog on MySpace–completely clueless about what that actually meant. At the time, I was a pretty sheltered human being who hadn’t spent a lot of time ever talking about my life. To give you an idea, my Mama didn’t know I was engaged to my boyfriend when she first met him–though we’d been pretty serious for a whole year and she was my best friend. Reading the early beginnings of that blog, I come across as silly and happy. Most days, I was running my Mama to the ER while trying to pay her bills, care for her pets, keep a business going, and work part-time. It was the hardest year of my entire life, but I was good at keeping secrets. I was taught that dirty laundry didn’t need to be shared–that the small things that caused me enormous pain–didn’t need to be known by anyone…let alone me.

    Before all of this happened, I was on the road to changing my life after a good friend who was very much like me shot himself to death. I started making realizations about myself and got involved with that aforementioned man who helped me be an honest person with him. I was making baby steps, and then she got sick–and I fell on my ass–reverting to the same old, same old…convinced she would get better.

    When she didn’t, I made a promise to myself not to shut down the way I had when I was a child–after my father died. And I had this community–a blog–and a voice that I’d always had, which had been funneled into poetry and short stories. I decided one day that I was going to lay it all out there, and it was safe because it was fairly anonymous until friends and etc found me. And it did something that changed my life. It showed people I was human and a lot like them.

    I stopped seriously blogging about a year ago because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I felt too exposed–especially when everything started being connected. It was impossible to continue to keep my whole name from being associated with it. So, I decided to stop trying to protect myself. And then, I found myself editing myself because it was still too hard to stand in the often messy conundrum that’s my life.

    I took time to refocus and decide what I needed now. Back then, I wrote to stay sane. Literally. I wrote to grieve. And sometimes, what I wrote was embarrassing and sucked. But I was as human as I’ll ever be, and I am grateful for the bravery that blog lent me–even if it also invited a lot of mean people with it.

    I feel stronger now. I don’t need a blog anymore. I am a writer, and I need writing–but more than venting, I need creative outlets. So, my new blog will be more of that. I’m writing in the meantime, and deleting entries often, because sometimes I am ridiculous.

    If it wasn’t for my ability to say too much–to tell people I woke up sobbing at 3 am every time I tried to sleep for an entire year–I would not be here. Not this person. I would be a broken girl who could not feel and I wouldn’t be doing anything to live a life that lets me help other people break in a safe manner.

    What’s TMI could save someone, and if you don’t like it, leave. I’d rather read real things than pretentious bullshit that never shows me a shred of humanity.

  3. OK, when is the next Great Interview Experiment, Neil?

    And you’re right about the Grey Lady. I am so sick of hearing from authors who have published books with twenty words in the title after the colon. Which, publishers take note, should really be a semi-colon. I deplore such books, and will continue to do so, until I publish one myself, which in this modern age could me any minute now.

    BTW, I bags Neil as my interview subject in the next GIE. Tag. You’re it.
    The Honourable Husband posted Photo Friday: Eat!

  4. My blog isn’t a diary and it isn’t a newspaper. I am its writer and editor and both roles are important. The way I tell my story on my blog has changed over the years but my story is still being told and I still feel my blog is an authentic reflection of who I am.
    V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios posted "How to behave"

  5. sweetney says:

    You always make me think, Neil. (And I need to think on this a bit more before I give a thoughtful response… but wanted to say thank you for making me think.)
    sweetney posted All hail the queen

  6. Really? The Times was condescending? Who knew such a thing could happen.
    unmitigated me posted Mary & the Marias

  7. I participated in that blogger experiment way back. .. and back in about 2006 you were the first person to help me understand that wp.org is DIFFERENT than wp.com Yikes! how far we have all come. No, I don’t need to know about your ED (oops, medication), but I still love every bit of your writing.

  8. Danny says:

    When my twins were born at 24 weeks and one died 12 hours later, I wrote about it on my blog. When my son spent 5 months in the NICU, with all its ups and downs and five surgeries, I wrote about it almost daily. It was a lifesaver even though it was TMI at its most extreme. The outpouring of caring, positive comments I received was incredibly helpful (even though I also heard from a few random crazies). I love this new world where we’re able to share REAL parts of our lives so easily (including side effects of cholesterol medication!) for all sorts of reasons. I really believe in the the concept of an online “community.” And if certain kinds of “disclosures” make you uncomfortable, don’t read that person! That said, I think we all know the boundaries for ourselves where the T in TMI becomes more pronounced. And about your “branding” comment (dear God, how I hate that word!), I admit that I follow a few celebrities on Twitter and have been shocked at how inane some of them are. I can see how keeping a little mystery going might help keep certain people’s image intact! But I don’t think that’s something you need to worry about, Neil, your “brand” is all about being real, that’s why people always come back to you.
    Danny posted Five Ways to Improve Next Year’s Oscar Telecast

  9. Megan says:

    Some people think entirely too much. Really, who cares? You can ignore information that you don’t want to see, unfriend someone who regularly posts things that make you uncomfortable or just drop off social media altogether.

    This is a non-issue. You do what feels right for you and ignore the rest.
    Megan posted Grace

  10. snozma says:

    Word!

    There’s nothing so sad as when newspapers kvetch about the internet and the hoi polloi on it.

    I LOVE the grand interview experiment. MORE PLEASE SIR.

    And yes, it would be great if they interviewed a regular person but they’d probably pick a dummy and misquote them. Unlike Thomas Friedman who bases his whole column on interviews with 2 taxi drivers as he goes from airport to 4 star hotel.

    There are thousands of blogs better informed than some NYT columns.

    OK, I’m veering off the rails here. But great post!
    snozma posted My Inner Adult’s Name is Arlen Finkle

  11. Jane Gassner says:

    I read that article and it pissed me off. I didn’t go as deep into my analysis of why as you did, however. I just figured that once again, the MSM, specifically the NYTimes, was whining about how not real writers were crowding out the pearls of real writers. To which I say, Bull Shit. It’s like last year’s prom queen complaining that this year’s nominees don’t know how to dress and have bad complexions.

  12. Juli says:

    Even though I more or less agree with all of your points, I kinda want to argue with you. My social media is clogged with T.M.I. So many voices! I know I should filter the noise somehow—with lists, maybe Dunbar’s number, etc. But this endless fine-tuning feels like another time-suck, designed to keep me on Facebook even longer.

    The novelty of social media has worn off for me. Yes, I definitely want to know T.M.I. about some people. But at times there is too much social in my media. Isn’t it just dicking around on the internet? I need to learn how to set limits for myself, unplug more. I am losing days.
    Juli posted New Year’s resolutions.

    • Neil says:

      And I agree with you. But that is our problem for listening, not everyone else for talking. I don’t mind the reduction of noise. But I was sensing a tone in that article that some don’t deserve to express themselves.

  13. Well, now that I’ve entirely changed my “brand” and am starting from scratch with my first and last name out there connected to my writing, I find myself not caring quit as much. I’m 45 years old. If I can’t be myself and all of myself now, then when? I’m funny, engaging, witty, smart, smart-alecky, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, outrageous, outraged, angry, obnoxious, obstinate, boring, boorish, and a low-rent megalomaniac for making my name my brand.

    But, you know, I’m on earth for 90 odd years, and I have stuff to say which reflects all of who I am. Will anyone read? Sometimes. Sometimes they’ll really, really like what I write – it will move them, make them laugh, make them angry. It’s like being a sorcerer the way that words can affect the biochemistry of a person clear across the world and make them laugh until they pee their pants.

    But this is not an exact science, even with the Internet version of Strunk and White in hand. I edit a lot, censor some, try to use spell check, but in the end, you get my sometimes imperfect product along with the rest. And believe me, that happens on the Wall Street Journal as often as it happens in Aunt Mary’s Facebook feed.

  14. Marta says:

    I feel like we fundamentally in our core feel this need to express TMI thru social media from a desire to be seen and heard. It might be mundane or silly, but it is on our minds at that current moment and so is that desire to share. To tell someone else who just might respond with a “me too” or “this is how I dealt with it” is so much easier to blurt out on social media than to in person walk up to a co-worker and say, “hey my cholesterol’s kinda high…” There is than the possibility of that in person rejection. With social media if your tweet or status goes unanswered, liked or commented you can chalk it up to me that there are 1000s of posts published and perhaps yours just didn’t hit their news feed or twitter stream when they happened to check it. The sting is much less painful, but the affirmation when it happens is just as real and comforting.

    Perhaps its the 4 glasses of booze I’ve had this evening, but at least that’s how I feel. But I tend to as a general rule be an oversharer.
    Marta posted Without Words

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